Today is Veteran's Day. I am thankful for my service.
I know. It sounds weird for me to be thankful for my own service, but the military was a good experience for me, and it probably taught me more about myself than any single experience I have had up to and following my enlistment.
When I joined, I was at a point in my life where I felt I was failing. I'd been told, in not so many words, for the eight previous years that I was almost good enough, and that I could be perfect if I just met whatever milestone had be set for me - which was, usually, not verbalized but hinted at, and I simply needed to intuit the appropriate action. I think I really believed I could be perfect, if ..., but I just never learned how to read minds, and so I was always wrong.
Being a soldier taught me that perfection was not the goal. Rather we should strive for qualities like: integrity, allegiance, selflessness, and honor. I learned to, truly, do my best, and when I messed up, I learned to take responsibility for my own actions, because in the military individual actions can, sometimes, really have dire consequences. It never did, for me, and for that, I am also thankful.
I met some of the most amazing people during my enlistment (especially the one I am lucky to call my partner, my confidante, my husband, my best friend). There is something about being in that kind of environment that makes friendships happen at a hyper-speed not normal in regular life. It can't be explained, but it is pretty incredible.
I also had the opportunity to see places I would never have gone, were it not for my service.
I learned, too, that I was physically strong - something I had never considered applied to me. I could heft 70lbs of equipment on my back. I could run two miles in less than sixteen minutes. I could march for miles without complaint. I could dig a foxhole and a hasty. I could shoot an assualt rifle with 80% accuracy (32 out of 40 targets down). I even threw grenades (something some of the men at my last duty station were unwilling to do) with my wimpy little-girl arms.
One of the most important lessons I learned was not to take myself too seriously, which went hand-in-hand with the budding realization that prefection is not a goal, but rather one should aspire to be efficient and hard working. The motto is "Be All That You Can Be", which doesn't mean be perfect, but rather that each should strive to achieve his or her own potential, and then, keep pushing for more.
I learned not to take myself so seriously and that failure didn't mean I was a horrible person, but rather that I just still had more to learn.
One of my favorite memories took place at the grenade range during Basic Training, where I learned to be steadfast, even in the face of adversity - which was sometimes the visage of our Drill Instructors. It had been a very long day, and I was just tired and hungry, and I just wanted to sit somewhere and be still and quiet for just a few minutes.
After every range, we were assembled in formation for a brass and ammo check. Essentially, we were searched to make sure that we hadn't forgotten to return live rounds to the appropriate areas.
We stood in straight lines, put our Kevlar on the ground and emptied our pockets into it. We stood at parade rest until the Drill Sergeant approached us, and then, we would snap to attention and exclaim, loudly, "No brass! No ammo! Drill Sergeant!"
The Drill Sergeant on this day was one of the other platoon sergeants, and he was joking with some of the enlistees, most of whom ended up on the ground. I, so, did not want to do push-ups, and I was resolved to not make a mistake and allow myself to let my guard down.
A favorite tactic of the drill instructors was to get the IET soldier laughing or joking, and then, ask "Do you think I'm your buddy, Private? Dust yourself off" - a hated euphemism that meant do push-ups and remember your place.
When he got to me, I snapped to attention, said my phrase, and stood, eyes staring into the distance while he did his inspection.
As he was patting me down, he said, "You know you have a mustache, Specialist. I'll bet you think your mustache is pretty."
To which I replied, "Not nearly as pretty as yours, Drill Sergeant."
I managed not to crack a smile.
And the Drill Sergeant was taken off guard - probably a first for him. He finished the rest of his inspection, quickly, and no one did push ups ... including me.
And on that day, at that moment, I was very, very thankful.
My military experience may not be typical. Maybe I was just lucky. But I am thankful that I had the experience of being a soldier, and I wouldn't change that part of my life for anything.